Savages: Interview with the Cast (Part 2)
Oliver Stone’s “Savages” features an all-star ensemble cast including Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively, Aaron Johnson, John Travolta, Benicio Del Toro, Salma Hayek, Emile Hirsch, Sandra Echeverría, and Demián Bichir. The film is based on Don Winslow’s best-selling crime novel that was named one of The New York Times’ Top 10 Books of 2010.
Working with Oliver Stone
Hayek: I was elated to have been involved with “Savages,” as I’ve wanted to work with Oliver my entire acting career. I was extremely happy to work with him, but I was also a bit sad after the experience ended. Now that I’ve had one of my biggest dreams met, I can never have that dream back again.
Del Toro: Oliver’s like a coach who coaches to win. He’s watching and listening to every play; he’s got that replay on in his brain. He knows the scenes inside and out. He will poke at you. He will make you mad, and then he’ll poke at you again. Then your blood will really be pumping, and then he will smile at you. And then you do the scene, and you don’t know what you did. But when you see it, and it works, you understand why you want to work with Oliver Stone.
Kitsch: Oliver is old-school. It’s all about the work, which I admire. I loved how he would take a break, talk about the scene and work it out. It’s very settling. But you’d better bring your A game. Oliver notices every nuance, even if it’s just a glance. He will question why you’re doing it, which makes you prepare even more. When you do mess up, and everyone has that moment, he will absolutely let you know. But he will also tell you when the take is awesome. He keeps you on your toes, and your performance is better for it.
Hirsch: We have similar comedic sensibilities and made each other laugh. He was like a gentle bear of a guy to me. So cool, so detail-oriented.
The “Savages” Experience
Kitsch: I trained with a SEAL prior to beginning “Savages.” He was incredibly open with me. It wasn’t just about learning how to shoot semiautomatic weapons. He’d tell me stories about Iraq and Afghanistan, all of his buddies. It was special to be a part of an incredible opportunity that helped me to understand who Chon was. What I love about the SEALs is that you can walk by them on the street and you wouldn’t think twice. They don’t telegraph. But if you see them in their element, they are something to behold. I’m fortunate to call some of them friends now, too.
Hayek: It was so much fun to be the jefe — to have these really tough guys work for me and take my orders. To have strong machos like Benicio Del Toro and Demián Bichir work for me, it’s like a female fantasy.
Del Toro: It was great working with Salma Hayek. Plus, she’s got Julio César Chávez in her blood, and it complements her beauty.
Johnson: We had a great team from preproduction and on set to help us through. We sat down right at the beginning with [recently retired DEA agent Eddie Follis], who introduced us to people who were in the cartel and in the Colombian mafia. It was great and a little terrifying to hear their stories. Oliver wanted us to indulge in the most preparation we could so it would seem natural, so we would really know our stuff.
Hayek: [Production designer Tomás Voth] kindly made me huge boards of every single one of Elena’s properties that I kept in my bedroom, which helped me understand her. My husband saw them and said, “Wait, are we buying another house?” I said, “No, don’t worry, they’re already mine.”
Bichir: I love playing tennis, and when you play with a great player, your game always improves. That’s how I feel about working with Benicio. He is just a fantastic, powerful actor… Most of my work with Salma involved talking to her via a laptop screen, except for one intense scene when she feels double-crossed. I hadn’t seen her for years, and she looks fantastic. She has so much grace and confidence and is a better actress than ever.
Echeverría: I always respected Salma. She is a very strong, sexy, smart woman who has realized her dreams, and it was great to watch her channel all that into Elena. Now that I know her personally, I admire her even more. She had so many ideas and suggestions, so much energy and generosity, it was inspiring.
Hayek: I love these girls. Blake was smart and fun and professional and imaginative and bizarre, in all the right ways. She was brave, not afraid to speak her mind and eloquent. From the first day in rehearsals, when she started talking about the character and the structure of the script, I thought, “We’re going to have a good time here.” We started working on scenes on our own time, and when it came to doing the scene, she had taken notes on everything we did. I had so much trust and confidence in her. And as for Sandra, who I did not have the pleasure of knowing before, well, I feel so lucky to have two new friends.
Del Toro: When you hear the accounts of the real people who have been involved in those situations or have been victims in the drug war, when you hear the stories of the people on both sides, it brings seriousness to the story, which helped keep everybody focused.
Hayek: I am Mexican. I’ve known different aspects of Elena’s story. It’s part of life in my country. What I hope the movie will do is make people aware of the level of the drug trade problem between Mexico and the United States. It’s not just a Mexican problem. It’s a problem we share: America and Mexico are partners in this trade. One country’s selling and one country’s buying, and it’s slipping through the hands of both governments.
Hirsch: Of course, I don’t understand the intricacies of money laundering. I just learned the lines and the context of the scene. As an audience member, you buy the illusion because that’s the magic of movies and storytelling.
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